Stirring up – as Church’s year ends
In the Church’s Calendar, today, being the Sunday next before Advent, is the last Sunday of the Church’s year. In the Roman Catholic Church (which many Provinces of the Anglican Church also adopt), it is marked as the Feast of Christ the King, also known as “The Reign of Christ.”
Traditionally, the day is informally known in the Anglican Church as “Stir-up Sunday”, which is derived from the first two words of the Collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549, 1662, etc. The Collect, which in the BCP, is for 25th Sunday after Trinity, with a rubric specifying that it “shall always be used upon the Sunday next before Advent” (as the last Sunday before Advent does not always fall on the 25th Sunday after Trinity, like today that is the 24th ), reads: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded…” In the Church of Nigeria BCP, the “Stir up” Collect is strangely placed for the 21st Sunday after Trinity.
The major petition of this Collect is that we be stirred up – Be roused from the slumber of complacency. Positive/right actions are usually divinely inspired/spurred and energised. This prayer is meant to prepare the church for the Advent, stirring up the people to be mindful of the season and all it means. It is also a call to do good works and be prepared for the coming of the Lord as the Judge, plenteously rewarding people according to their works.
The word “reward” generally means, “something given in return for a useful service rendered.” But in the Bible, the word does not often mean only a recompense for worthy acts, but also a retribution for wrongdoing. Everyone has a reward for his works, whether good or bad. The idea of plenteous reward for good works is taught in the Bible: “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we shall reap…” (Gal. 6:9); “…Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Some Christians have an unwholesome understanding of the doctrine of Grace as opposed to works (Eph. 2:8-9), and so, excludes reward since it entails merit. But we are created for good works (Eph. 2:10). The salvation is unto good works and deeds for which we shall all give account to God.
In the Stir up Prayer, the Lord is thought of as the Judge who is the Lord of the harvest, and apportions reward according to the measure of the good fruits that are produced. The Son of Man shall sit in judgment upon the wicked, unbelieving world. They brought Him before the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod for judgments. He has been judged again and again in the court of public opinion. But, one day, all who have been His judges and deemed Him unworthy of their trust shall come before Him in judgment.
Judgement is a dominant theme in the Bible. Our Lord Himself gave many teachings and parables on this and ultimately capped it in His last words in the Bible: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according his work.” (Rev. 22:12).
The Ven. Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.